MLB Free Agency 2021-22: Everything You Need to Know About This Year's Class
Major League Baseball's free-agent market technically isn't open yet and won't be until Nov. 8. So if you're champing at the bit for some signings, you'll have to wait at least a couple more days.
But if you want to know just what the heck is going on, well, we're here to help.
Ahead is a thorough rundown on what you need to know about the class of free agents for the 2021-22 offseason. We won't be covering every player—MLB.com has a complete list—who's set to hit the open market. Just the most important ones, as well as some important clerical matters.
Since MLB's offseason is currently in the window for players and teams to make decisions on opt-outs and options, let's start there.
Tracking the Top Opt-Out and Option Decisions
As of Wednesday, players and teams have five days to exercise opt-outs and contract options, be they of the team or player variety. Reports are still coming in on these fronts, but for now here's the deal.
Opting Out: OF Nick Castellanos (CIN)
Castellanos is still only 29 years old, and he's fresh off a .309/.362/.576 slash line and 34 home runs, so he should indeed be able to do better than the two years and $32 million he had left on his contract with the Cincinnati Reds.
Bauer, 30, is still facing an uncertain future with the Los Angeles Dodgers and indeed in affiliated baseball in general after he was placed on administrative leave while under police investigation over allegations of sexual assault, which he has denied..
Profar, meanwhile, has settled into a comfortable role as a super-utility man with the San Diego Padres over the last two seasons. For a role like that, $6.5 million is a decent sum.
Pending Opt-Outs: 3B Nolan Arenado (STL), DH J.D. Martinez (BOS)
Arenado has already determined that he won't be opting out of his deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Martinez, on the other hand, could go either way. He has one year and $19.35 million left in his pact with the Boston Red Sox. He could beat that on the open market after slamming 28 home runs and 42 doubles in 2021, but perhaps only if the designated hitter permanently goes universal.
Given where they're at in their careers, there was never any chance Blackmon and Bradley would be turning down $21 million and $9.5 million, respectively.
Gardner, who's now 38 years old, might still return for his 15th season with the New York Yankees after passing on $2.3 million for 2022.
Rather than sign up for a $13 million salary in 2022, Kikuchi will test the open waters after earning an All-Star nod in 2021.
Declined Team Options: OF Kole Calhoun and RHP Tyler Clippard (ARI), INF Matt Carpenter and RHP Carlos Martinez (STL), OF/1B Ian Desmond (COL), LHP Jake Diekman (OAK), OFs Odubel Herrera and Andrew McCutchen (PHI), RHP Joe Kelly (LAD), OF Kevin Pillar (NYM), 3B Kyle Seager (SEA)
The big names here are McCutchen and Seager. Though both are well past their prime years, McCutchen still has a decent talent for getting on base and Seager just hit a career-high 35 home runs.
Notable Pending Team Options: 2B Cesar Hernandez (CHW), RHP Craig Kimbrel (CHW), LHP Wade Miley (CIN), 3B Jose Ramirez (CLE), C Christian Vazquez (BOS), C Mike Zunino (TBR)
Of these, all are no-brainers to be picked up save for maybe Kimbrel's $16 million option. Even if he is one of baseball's all-time great closers, the Chicago White Sox might deem that too steep for a guy who posted a 5.09 ERA in 24 outings for them down the stretch in 2021.
Duvall is still arbitration-eligible even after declining his mutual option with Atlanta, so he's not a free agent.
As for Garcia, he rightfully calculated that he's worth more than $12 million after hitting 29 home runs with an .820 OPS in 2021.
Notable Pending Mutual Options: OF Joc Pederson (ATL), RHP Mark Melancon (SDP), 1B/LF Kyle Schwarber (BOS)
It's rare for mutual options to actually get exercised, so don't expect any of these to fall into that category.
Of these guys, Melancon and Schwarber figure to make out the best on the open market. Even at 36, Melancon is still one of baseball's top closers. For his part, Schwarber is coming off a dominant offensive effort highlighted by a .928 OPS and 32 home runs in 113 games.
This FA Class Is Saturated with Shortstops
This time last year, Francisco Lindor and Brandon Crawford were also slated to be part of an impossibly deep class of shortstops on the 2021-22 market. Alas, both have since signed extensions.
On the plus side, there's still...
SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
At just 27, Correa is unusually young for a free agent. On top of that, he's also arguably the most talented player on this winter's market.
Correa leads all shortstops with 34.1 rWAR since his rookie year in 2015, and he's coming off his most productive season yet. He had an .850 OPS and 26 home runs in 2021, not to mention a league-leading 21 defensive runs saved.
In all likelihood, Correa will have Lindor's 10-year, $341 million contract in his sights this winter.
SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Even still, Seager has reminded everyone what he's capable of by posting a .926 OPS and 31 home runs in 147 games over the last two seasons. With a bat like that, he might at least salvage $200 million.
SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Story is as good as any shortstop in the game when he's right, but that wasn't the case this season. His 103 OPS+ marked him as a barely above-average hitter.
SS Javier Baez, New York Mets
Baez, who's also 28, has struck out 224 more times than he's walked over the last two seasons. In spite of his exciting talent, this is going to cause many a front office to give him a wide berth.
Still, it only takes one to notice that Baez's wild swinging didn't keep him from a respectable .813 OPS and 31 home runs in 2021. Throw in his often scintillating defense, and he might have enough appeal for a nine-figure pact.
Others: SS Freddy Galvis (PHI), SS Jose Iglesias (BOS), SS Andrelton Simmons (MIN)
The Market's Other Top Infielders
As for the market's best infielders who aren't shortstops, there's...
2B Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays
Following a rough season with the Oakland Athletics in 2020, Semien ultimately chose to accept a one-year "prove it" deal worth $18 million with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Goodness, did he ever prove it. All Semien did in 2021 was set a single-season record for home runs by a second baseman with 45. He was also quite adept defensively, ranking third among his second base peers with 11 defensive runs saved.
At 31 years old, Semien is more middle-aged than young by baseball standards. He nonetheless has a shot at nine figures.
3B/OF Kris Bryant, San Francisco Giants
Even at 29 years old, Bryant isn't quite the same game-changing slugger that he was when he broke through as a Rookie of the Year and MVP winner in 2015 and 2016.
Nonetheless, teams would gladly take more of the .835 OPS, 25 home runs and versatile defense he provided in 2021. Nine figures is a possibility for him, too.
1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta
In his 12th season with Atlanta in 2021, Freeman finally earned himself a World Series ring. On top of that, his creds include five All-Star nods, a Gold Glove and an MVP.
Freeman's bat is his primary weapon, and consistently so as he's done no worse than an .841 OPS annually since 2013. So even if he's 32 years old, he could match Paul Goldschmidt's recent deal worth $130 million.
1B Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees
Between 2014 and 2017, Rizzo was good for a .900 OPS and 30 homers on an annual basis. Last year's shortened season obviously didn't help, but it's more so his age (32) that's contributed to his more modest averages of an .841 OPS and 21 home runs since 2018.
All the same, if you're a team looking for an experienced first baseman with a World Series ring and multiple All-Star selections and Gold Gloves, Rizzo is basically Freeman Lite.
1B Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
Even before a broken thumb ended his season in September, Belt had also missed time in 2021 with inflammation in his right knee. In any case, more ailments in what's becoming a lengthy injury history.
But you know who has the fourth-best OPS out of all players with at least 500 plate appearances since 2020? That's right. This guy. So for any team looking for an impact bat, the 33-year-old Belt is more than worth a look.
DH Nelson Cruz, Tampa Bay Rays
OK, so, Cruz technically isn't an infielder. He's also 41 years old, so he's not exactly the platonic ideal of a free-agent hitter.
What's important, though, is that he can indeed still hit. By blasting 32 home runs in 2021, he maintained his overall lead with 292 home runs dating back to 2014. Even if it's just for one year, some team is bound to be very happy it signed him come the end of 2022.
3B Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
As noted earlier, he showed in 2021 that he still has plenty of pop in his bat. So even at 34 years of age, he'd be a good pickup for a team looking to give its lineup a veteran boost.
Others: 3B Eduardo Escobar (MIL), INF/OF Josh Harrison (OAK), INF/OF Jonathan Villar (NYM)
The Market's Top Outfielders
As for the top free agents who call the outfield home, the list starts with a name we've already discussed...
RF Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds
He needs no introduction offensively, yet the catch with Castellanos is that he's consistently one of baseball's worst defenders. His defensive runs saved as a right fielder have been deep in the red annually since 2017.
As such, the best home for him is probably at DH. But even if it won't be forthcoming right away, he should get more negotiating power when the universal DH is presumably written into the next collective bargaining agreement.
CF Starling Marte, Oakland Athletics
Though it barely seemed to register on the national radar, Marte just had maybe the finest season of his major league career. Notably, he hit .310 with 47 stolen bases in only 120 games.
The downside is that Marte is 33 years old, but he's easily the best option for teams in need of a center fielder and/or a table-setter atop their lineup.
OF/INF Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers
Leave it to the Dodgers to take a castoff like Taylor and turn him into one of the most downright useful players in baseball. Between 2017 and 2021, he posted an .804 OPS while playing all over the field.
If fellow super-utility man Ben Zobrist could make it halfway to nine figures despite being in his mid-30s, so too might Taylor after merely his age-30 season in 2021.
LF Mark Canha, Oakland Athletics
It's hard to call him a "star," but Canha has quietly been one of the most reliable good players in baseball over the last four seasons. He's posted an .807 OPS with a 162-game average of 24 home runs.
Even with his 33rd birthday due on Feb. 15, Canha should be able to land a nice multiyear deal.
RF Michael Conforto, New York Mets
After consistently hitting at an All-Star level—i.e., an .864 OPS and 97 homers—between 2017 and 2020, Conforto plummeted to a .729 OPS and 14 homers in 2021.
Bummer for him. But for teams looking to take a flier on a bounce-back candidate, this 28-year-old should be at the very top of that list.
RF Avisail Garcia, Milwaukee Brewers
His strong production this season made it three out of the last five years that he's trafficked in above-average offense.
Because of that, the 30-year-old should be in the market for at least a two-year deal worth more than the $12 million he just rejected for 2022.
LF Eddie Rosario and RF Jorge Soler, Atlanta
As of the trade deadline, both Rosario and Soler were off most people's radar for the 2021 season. But then Atlanta picked them up and benefited humongously in October. Rosario was the MVP of the National League Championship Series. Soler, of the World Series.
This likely doesn't mean that both have huge riches coming their way, but they're definitely more appealing now than they were even as recently as a couple of months ago.
LF Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies
It's easy to notice that he hit just .222 in 2021, by far the worst batting average of his 13-year career in the majors.
However, the 2013 NL MVP still managed a .334 OBP and 27 home runs. Given that he also had a 1.027 OPS against left-handers, the 35-year-old is at least a viable platoon option at this stage of his career.
Others: LF Corey Dickerson (TOR), LF Tommy Pham (SDP)
The FA Class Is Also Rich in Starting Pitchers
If there's a position besides shortstop on this winter's free-agent market that's especially deep, it's definitely starting pitching. Just look at this list...
RHP Max Scherzer, Los Angeles Dodgers
Scherzer is a three-time Cy Young Award winner as of right now, and he may yet have another coming his way in two weeks after posting a 2.46 ERA and 236 strikeouts over 179.1 innings this season.
Because Scherzer is 37 years old, his next contract will inevitably be short on length. But even with, say, a three-year deal, he might still secure a nine-figure guarantee.
LHP Robbie Ray, Toronto Blue Jays
Marcus Semien wasn't the only gamble that paid off for Toronto in 2021. Its willingness to re-up with Ray even after he struggled with a 6.62 ERA in 2020 paid off, as he's surely the front-runner for the American League Cy Young Award after leading the AL with a 2.84 ERA, 248 strikeouts and 193.1 innings.
Even at 30 years old, Ray should be a shoo-in for a $100-plus million contract.
RHP Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants
Gausman started 2021 stronger than he finished it, but he still ended up having the best season of his career. With plenty of help from his utterly dominant splitter, he had a 2.81 ERA over 192 innings.
Based on his tendency toward inconsistency and the fact that he'll be 31 on Jan. 6, Gausman probably won't make as much as Ray. But is nine figures at least possible? You bet.
RHP Marcus Stroman, New York Mets
After opting out of last year's COVID-19-shortened season, Stroman didn't miss a beat in his return to the mound in 2021. If anything, he didn't get the credit he deserved as he ground-balled his way to a 3.02 ERA and 179 innings.
A nine-figure deal may also be in play for the 30-year-old, though it might be more likely that he falls under that threshold.
LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
If it wasn't already, Kershaw's prime now seems firmly in the past after 2021. His 3.55 ERA was his worst since his rookie season in 2008, and he pitched only 121.2 innings because of forearm trouble.
Yet you'd have to be quite pessimistic to think that this three-time Cy Young Award winner and future Hall of Famer doesn't have anything left in the tank. There should be enough interest in the 33-year-old for him to find a lucrative short-term contract.
LHP Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
He did, however, only make 24 starts and pitch 132.2 innings because of shoulder fatigue. Since that was far from his first bout with the injury bug, the 28-year-old might be limited to short-term, incentive-laden offers.
RHP Anthony DeSclafani, San Francisco Giants
It would be a stretch to say that DeSclafani dominated in 2021, but the 31-year-old nonetheless got the job done. He hurled two shutouts and finished with a 3.17 ERA and 167.2 innings.
It's doubtful that DeSclafani will get a contract worthy of an ace, but multiple years and eight figures per year should be in order.
RHP Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
Out of action since he underwent Tommy John surgery in October 2020, Verlander should be on track to return to the mound by Opening Day. That is, of course, if there are takers for him.
Oh, there will be. Because even if Verlander is 38 years old and decidedly out of practice after not pitching since July 2020, he's still a two-time Cy Young Award winner and generally one of the most decorated hurlers of the 21st century.
Others: LHP Tyler Anderson (SEA), RHP Alex Cobb (LAA), RHP Jon Gray (COL), RHP Zack Greinke (HOU), LHP Yusei Kikuchi (SEA), LHP Steven Matz (TOR), LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (BOS), RHP Noah Syndergaard (NYM)
The Market's Top Relief Pitchers
If anyone is in need of a closer, there will be at least five good options on the market...
RHP Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Iglesias has generally been good throughout his seven-year career, yet never better than in 2021. He needed only 70 innings to punch out 103 batters, and his expected ERA (2.49) was actually lower than his real ERA (2.57).
The righty will be 32 on Jan. 4, but it was only last winter that Liam Hendriks scored a three-year, $54 million contract despite being in that same boat. So, that's likely what Iglesias will be aiming for.
RHP Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ultimately, the five-year, $80 million contract the Dodgers did with Jansen in 2016 worked out well. He had a 2.61 ERA throughout the life of it, including a 2.22 ERA with only four home runs allowed in 69 innings this season.
Though the 34-year-old won't come anywhere close to another $80 million contract, he might get multiple years at eight figures a pop.
LHP Brad Hand, New York Mets
After making three straight All-Star teams between 2017 and 2019, Hand has seen all sorts of ups and downs since 2020. Worst of all, he prompted the Blue Jays to designate him for assignment after putting up a 7.27 ERA in 11 appearances with them this season.
On the plus side, the 31-year-old lefty finished strong with a 2.70 ERA in 16 appearances for the Mets. Between that and his track record, he might have a shot at landing another closer's gig this winter.
RHP Kendall Graveman, Houston Astros
Granted, Graveman was only a closer for half the season with the Mariners before he was traded to the Astros. But he dominated like a closer all year, allowing only 35 hits (including just three homers) in 56 innings.
After that, chances are the 30-year-old will be able to secure a multiyear deal.
RHP Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics
Upon signing a one-year deal with them in February, Rosenthal ultimately never threw a pitch for the Athletics in the regular season. He missed the year after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in his right hip.
If the 31-year-old flamethrower is now healthy—or at least, on his way to being healthy—he nonetheless has a chance at landing another one-year deal. It was only last year that he had a 1.90 ERA with 38 strikeouts over 23.2 innings.
Others: LHP Aaron Loup (NYM), RHP Collin McHugh (TBR), RHP Hector Neris (PHI), RHP Adam Ottavino (BOS), RHP Ryan Tepera (CHW)
About the Qualifying Offer
Sunday, Nov. 7, is the deadline for teams to issue qualifying offers to players who they think are worthy of one. Those players will then have until Nov. 17 to accept or reject the offer.
The qualifying offer is a one-year contract valued at the average of the game's 125 highest-salaried players. This year, that's $18.4 million.
If a player accepts, he returns to his team at that rate for the 2022 season. If he rejects the offer, he'll become a free agent with strings attached: Whichever team signs him will have to surrender at least one draft pick.
A player can only receive a qualifying offer once in his career, and players who changed teams midway through the 2021 season are likewise exempt. This winter, that means Baez, Bryant, Gausman, Marte, Rizzo, Scherzer and Stroman are among those who won't be getting one.
No-Doubters for a QO: Nick Castellanos, Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray, Trevor Story
Of this group, the only one who might actually accept the qualifying offer is Story. If he does, he'll be making a Semien-like bet that he can substantially raise his value with a bounce-back year in 2022.
Tough Calls for a QO: Anthony DeSclafani, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Rodon, Chris Taylor, Justin Verlander
These are tough calls because any one of these five guys could determine that taking the $18.4 million is their best play on this winter's market.
While that would be more of a risk for DeSclafani and Taylor, it would make some sense for Kershaw, Rodon and Verlander. Kershaw and Verlander have age working against them, while Rodon's best hope at a long-term deal in free agency resides in first proving he can stay healthy.
A New CBA (Hopefully) Looms
The elephant in the room, meanwhile, is that the current collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association is set to expire on Dec. 1.
Because of that, pretty much everything you've read to this point has to be taken with a grain of salt.
We just don't know which rules and regulations that exist now will also exist in the next CBA. For instance, there could be new rules governing payrolls. According to Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, one idea is to lower the luxury-tax threshold while also introducing a payroll floor.
As alluded to earlier, the fate of the universal DH is another major factor. J.D. Martinez and Nelson Cruz will be watching that closely, though they'll hardly be alone there.
It's also far from a given that there will even be a new CBA come Dec. 2. As Ronald Blum of the Associated Press reported in October, the situation between MLB and the MLBPA is so grim that a work stoppage is "almost certain" to happen.
If so, Blum also wrote that MLB could institute a freeze on transactions during the stoppage. That could mean there will be a rush of signings before Dec. 1. Alternatively, both teams and players might be comfortable waiting to do business until after this particular labor storm has passed.
Either way, stay tuned.